Monday, April 5, 2010

A Journey Through the Past: Reviewing My Neil Young Collection

I am a big Neil Young fan. In fact, he may be my favorite songwriter of all-time. Billy Corgan might give him a run for his money, and Warren Zevon has been swiftly moving up my list since I got into him a year or two ago, but Neil's prolificness makes him hard to beat.

In his nearly 45 year recording career, Neil Young has released an overwhelming wealth of material. Being a fan, this means that I own an overwhelming number of his albums. And what happens when one owns so much material by one artist, especially an artist that, shall we say, hasn't always been consistent, is that one establishes favorite albums that one returns to more often, at the neglect of others. Heck, I bet I listen to Neil more than any other musician, yet there are albums of his I haven't heard in years. Of course, as I grow older, my tastes evolve, and now I'm left wondering if I've ignored or written off classic Neil Young albums that didn't deserve it.

So here's the idea. I am going to round up my Neil Young collection and start from the beginning. I am going to listen to each album (likely a few times each) in chronological order, and post a mini review of each one on here. I won't necessarily do any detailed analysis, but I will make a serious effort to reappraise each one of his albums, make a personal assessment of each. At the end of each post, I will assign the album a letter grade.

I am calling it "Journey Through The Past" because it is the name of a Neil song that seems appropriate to this project.

Now, a few notes on this.

For one, I own a shitload of Neil Young music, but it is by no means complete. For example, I don't own all the Buffalo Springfield albums, or all of his live albums, and I definitely didn't shell out $500 cash money for his exhaustive Archive Blu Ray set that came out last year. I may use this project as an excuse to fill in a few gaps in my collection, but there will still be some exclusions. I think you'll agree that my collection is close enough to complete, and I'd rather not spend all my time and money trying to track down a copy of Eldorado, or the soundtrack from Dead Man, or a bootleg of Chrome Dreams, or whatever.

Next, when I say I'm going through the collection chronologically, I mean that I'm going to post the albums in the approximate order that the music was recorded. So this means something like Sugar Mountain - Live at Canterbury House 1968 is going to show up fairly early on the list, even though it was released in 2008. This is in an effort to show a sense of progression through Neil's career. Now, there are a lot of ins and outs and what-have-yous in Neil's discography, with albums sometimes being released in different order than they were recorded, and albums being made up of material from different time periods, and etc etc etc. I'm not going to bust my ass researching this too hard, so I'm sure I'll screw the order up at some point. But it should be pretty close.

Further, I'm not Wikipedia, and I haven't spent much time researching the life of Neil Young. So I'm not planning on spending too much time on context, or anecdotes or anything like that. The posts will simply be my reaction to, and assessment of, the albums.

As for the letter grades, it dawns on me that being a huge fan of the music I'll be writing about, my reviews are going to tend to skew positive. I'm a big enough fan that I tend to see the positive even in some of his worst albums. I realize the grades are going to seem meaningless if almost everything gets an A or a B. So I'm going to try to grade on a bit of a curve to spread the grades out a bit. The breakdown will work out to something like this:

A: Great album.

B: Good to Very Good album.

C: Worthwhile.

D: Not So Worthwhile. (Unless you're a big fan like me and want to hear everything).

F: Just Flat Out Shitty.

So an album receiving a C or C+ would still be a recommendation on this scale, it just means that the album isn't as crucial as an A or B. I may write a few words after a letter grade if I think it requires clarification or qualification.

(Now, the question remains if I will have the nerve to give an "F" to a Neil Young album. There may be a contender or two, we'll see.)

I'm hoping to post about Buffalo Springfield in the next day or two, but I haven't heard it in a long time and may need more time to reabsorb it. I'm hoping to post at least 5 a week, though that may be optimistic. I'll adjust expectations accordingly.

I hope this is a worthwhile endeavor, not just as an opportunity for me to reevaluate the largest single chunk of my music collection, but for anybody who happens to come across this and has a passing interest in Neil's music. But even if it turns out to be a waste of time, at least it will keep this blog from dying.

Here we go. From Buffalo Springfield's 1966 self-titled debut, all the way through 2009's Fork in the Road.


Shenan said...

aside from his brilliance and prolificness, let's not forget the importance of neil young in your life personally in that he led you to the first real conversation you had with your girlfriend five years ago...

hehehe. i'm looking forward to this! i can definitely foresee having comments to chime in as you go along.

Joseph said...

Cool idea - looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this art form. Maybe when you're done with Neil you can go through the Zevon discography too. He's one of the few artists out there that I own (or at least have burned copies of) every single album. Yes, even Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. Did you hear Kevin Smith wants to make a film from Zevon's "Hit Somebody"? Sounds like an iffy idea, even in theory, but its weird enough to have me kinda interested.

Maybe if its a hit Jonathan Demme can make a film based on Captain Kennedy? That would be pretty badass.

Dan said...

I don't know, "Hit Somebody" has a solid, funny narrative, I can see it being successfully fleshed out into a movie.

And, actually, I was listening to it recently and Bad Luck Streak at Dancing Schol holds up as one of Zevon's best.